Filipino youth called to evangelize

  • June 5, 2009
{mosimage}Filipino Catholics have a great responsibility for evangelization and they should embrace their culture in the faith context, Bishop Mylo Vergara told a group of 540 youth and young adults.

The 46-year-old bishop, from the Philippines diocese of San Jose, Nueva Ecija, reminded the large group that they are children of the only Catholic country in Asia Pacific and represent the third largest Asian-Canadian group. He was in Toronto as the guest speaker at the Office of Catholic Youth’s Filipino-themed Banquet on May 28.

“I think there is a reason, given our population and migration, perhaps knowing we are the only Catholic nation in Asia and can reside in other countries, to proclaim what Jesus proclaimed,” Vergara said.

Using Powerpoint, the bishop flipped through statistics about immigration and world populations. Of the 1.1 billion Catholics worldwide, he said the Philippines contains the tenth largest population of Catholics — 70 million people from a national population of nearly 98 million.

Canada accepted an influx or 20,500 Filipino immigrants yearly between 2001 and 2006, and continues to welcome more, Vergara added, making Filipino culture relevant to Canadians.

“I hope when we reflect on our culture that we will appreciate who we are as sent by God into this world,” he said. “And our evangelization must be done with recognition to our culture.”

Vergara emphasized that Filipino culture is family-oriented, “kundiman”-oriented (expressing emotion and devotion through song), “bayani”-oriented (knowing their heroes) and spirit-oriented. It must be lived out in the Western world and be permeated with devotion to the Holy Family and to the Eucharist, and with service and  trust in the Holy Spirit,

He said Filipinos have learned how to be joyful even amidst pain and suffering. One day, travelling through his rural diocese which had been ravaged by a storm, he passed victims of the tragedy who were still smiling and whose children continued to play and laugh, he said. The tolerance to pain has been lost in the Western world, and Filipinos must help other Canadians understand how to be joyful amidst suffering, through dedication to the Filipino culture.

Filipinos have been able to preserve religious traditions by affixing them to more secular events, such as beauty pageants, said Vlad Mamradlo, a recent graduate of the University of Toronto and parishioner of St. Paschal Baylon Church in Thornhill, who attended the banquet.

During the banquet, a group of Filipino-Canadian youth put on a fashion show to exhibit traditional Filipino clothing. Religious fashion shows are often held in the Philippines in celebration of St. Helen, a festival known as Santacruzan. But the girls also wore sashes inscribed with virtues or titles given to Mary, the mother of Jesus. They placed flowers at the feet of a statue of Mary, incorporating the traditions of the festival of Flores de Mayo.

“As Filipinos, we have received the faith in a way that is rooted in the Filipino culture,” Mamradlo said. “For me, what that would mean is that there isn’t such a huge gap between the secular and the sacred.”

Many of the youth wore traditional Filipino clothing to the banquet, such as the baro’t saya, the barong Tagalog or the Maria Clara.

Christian Elia, director of the OCY announced that next year’s banquet will feature Polish culture to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s death. This year’s banquet had the largest turnout so far. The OCY has been hosting a yearly youth banquet for the past decade, but began highlighting different cultures within the archdiocese of Toronto in 2007.

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